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Parents peeved over parking at Bester Elementary School

March 17, 2003|by PEPPER BALLARD

pepperb@herald-mail.com

Idling cars and short-fused parents have been fuming under the haze of an ongoing after-school traffic cluster at Bester Elementary School, but school officials say there's no end in sight.

The 72-year-old elementary school, perched just north of the busy intersection of Memorial Boulevard and South Potomac Street in downtown Hagerstown, only has one entrance and one exit, which dates back to the year it was built, said Dennis McGee, Washington County Public Schools' director of facilities management.

"Cars are lined up in the street, children are running through the parking lot, parents are cussing out each other. It's just a big mess," said first-grade parent Dorothy Atha, 25.

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Two buses with about 100 students aboard daily serve Bester, said Chris Carter, the school system's director of transportation.

That leaves the other 400 Bester students to either walk or be driven by their parents to and from school each day, he said.

Elementary students living within a mile of the school are not transported by the school system, he said.

"There's a large number of people getting into the same space at the same time of the day when there's high traffic," said Principal Drenna Reineck.

Atha said she's had time to count the 90 parking spots in the school's lot, which don't accommodate the more than 100 parents that pick up their children in cars every day.

Reineck said the problem has escalated lately with dismissal being pushed until just before 4 p.m., at a time when downtown traffic begins to pick up.

She said the problem only lasts about 10 minutes.

"We make sure our students are ready to go," she said.

Certain rules, like not allowing a child to cross the bus loop or parking lot without a parent or teacher, help keep students safe, she said.

Kristi Sollenberger, 31, parent of a first-grader, said, "If something were to happen to one of those children, there would be no way for an emergency vehicle to get to one of those kids."

Atha and Sollenberger both said that despite statements they've heard from the Washington County Board of Education that creating a new bus loop, parking lot or bus route aren't within its budget, the school needs it.

Sollenberger said she wants someone to direct traffic for 15 minutes during the after-school rush.

McGee said the school system extended the bus loop and created a student drop-off area at the school's entrance about five years ago.

He said the school is not scheduled to be renovated, which would include a parking overhaul, until sometime in the next decade.

"There's not much we can do about it," he said. "There's no simple solution."

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